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Lichtenstein: Knicks-Nets, A Tale Of 2 Boroughs With Flawed Priorities

By Steve Lichtenstein
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Wednesday's contest between New York City's two "professional" basketball teams could best be described thusly: A team that should consider tanking, but won't, versus a team that has no reason to tank but is doing everything in its power to finish with the worst record in the league.

With star forward Carmelo Anthony and $72 million center Joakim Noah glued to the bench for the entire fourth quarter and 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose inactive with a sprained ankle, the Knicks used a youthful lineup to overcome a 10-point deficit and send the hapless Nets to their seventh straight defeat, 95-90, in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Knicks crowd at Barclays Center.

The Knicks were exhausted, playing the tail end of a road back-to-back (and third game in four nights). However, Kristaps Porzingis and reserve Willy Hermangomez dominated Brooklyn on both ends in the decisive fourth quarter, combining for 20 points and nine rebounds. The Nets were slaughtered on the defensive backboards all night, surrendering 21 offensive rebounds that led to 23 Knicks second-chance points.

"It was tough, trying to get it going and muster up some energy from somewhere, but our second unit and our guys that came in off the bench picked it up for us, so we liked that," said Anthony, who shot a miserable 6-for-22 from the field. "At one time, I looked up (and) there was like five minutes. I was like, "Ain't no way I'm going back in there.' These guys had it rolling. There wasn't any reason for us to go back in there and kind of break up what they had going on."

The Nets couldn't even take advantage of the foul trouble that limited Porzingis to just 26 minutes.

"We could have done a better job of coming together, staying poised and doing what we did in the third quarter," Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. "I feel like there were a couple of times when I made mistakes -- I mean we all made mistakes -- but there are things we have to try and limit during the stretches where teams are making a run. And if we can limit it from a 12-2 run to like a 4-or 6-2 run, that'll benefit us."

Knicks guard Sasha Vujacic, right, battles for the ball against the Nets' Caris LeVert during the game at Barclays Center on Feb. 1, 2017. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson picked Wednesday's game to promote Hollis-Jefferson to the starting lineup. While the talented forward's speed gave Porzingis fits over the first three quarters, the 6-foot-7 sophomore is undersized even by modern "stretch-four" standards. If you were expecting center Brook Lopez to pick up the rebounding slack, well, you haven't been watching the Nets these last nine years.

Unfortunately, matchups are not a major consideration in Atkinson's world. Neither, for that matter, is performance. Even the best players are routinely held to no more than 30-32 minutes.

Take rookie wing Caris LeVert, who was putting on a two-way show in the first half. LeVert was 4-for-5 from the field (including 2-for-2 from 3-point land) and was wreaking havoc on defense (two steals) with his length and athleticism.

He played 12 of the 24 first-half minutes.

I mean, Joe Harris returned from a six-game absence due to a sprained left ankle, so you've got to get him court time, right?

Meanwhile, a flawed starting unit was outscored 28-4 over a nearly eight-minute stretch bridging the second and third quarters on Monday in Miami. Atkinson didn't make a single substitution except for token defensive switches just for the final nine seconds of the first half. The Nets lost, 104-96.

In a game of runs, doling out playing time as if this were a rec league is not a winning formula.

It's a recipe for disaster, which is what the 9-40 Nets are in every way.

As everyone by now knows, the Nets receive no benefits from all this losing, since they do not have their own first- OR second-round selections in the 2017 draft. They were traded away in gambles by the prior regime.

While there was no way this roster was ever going to compete for a playoff spot this season, the Nets could have at least tried to make winning a higher priority in their game management. After all, perpetual losing has risks which can hinder development. Players are human. They are susceptible to succumbing to feelings like frustration and hopelessness. Look at the Kings.

The Knicks, on the other hand, are on a different path, but also not one that will lead to any glory. I'll leave the lengthy analysis to our site's fine columnist John Schmeelk, but I believe they should find a way to move on from the Melo-Drama and build around Porzingis.

MOREReport: Knicks Still Pursuing Carmelo Anthony-For-Kevin Love Trade

Now, I get that Anthony's age, no-trade clause, trade kicker, etc., all make it extremely difficult to find a trade partner. If any proffered return is insufficient, then obviously Knicks president Phil Jackson shouldn't just give away a player who can still light up the scoreboard on most nights.

But that doesn't mean Jackson has to continue to appease Anthony, either. Stop bringing in veterans and instead find more young, athletic players who can play defense and shoot from long distance. It doesn't have to all come together this season because Porzingis is only 21 years old and the Knicks still have all their future first-round draft picks.

That may be too much hard work for Jackson. He made the Rose and Noah transactions in a desperate attempt to try to maximize wins in Anthony's (and maybe his own?) short window. But what will it get? Maybe a low postseason seed and a first-round wipeout by a superior team?

Ask the Nets how short-term thinking worked out for them.

For a FAN's perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1

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